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Ali Maxwell answers your questions on dual threat monsters, new EFL managers, young players primed to step-up, L2 relegation, EFL clubs as biscuits, and more.
Autumn, eh? Leaves are turning orange and hair is turning grey as this EFL season winds its way towards a frenetic winter. Saturday, Tuesday. Saturday, Tuesday. And so now, whilst the opportunity is there, we thought it was the right time to take a big, deep, yoga-sized inhale before breathing out the answers to an Autumnal Mailbag bonanza — thank you for sending in so many great questions.
Before we get into those, can I please make one request?
NTT20 Pod has been nominated for the Football Supporter’s Association Awards 2023. Please, if you like what we do, spend ten seconds of your time casting a vote for us in the ‘Best Podcast of the Year’ category.
Enough of that. Let’s crack on…come on Joe, out with it…
Have you looked to see who the new ‘dual threat monsters’ are in the most fashionable position in football — the number 6 — i.e. those who can destroy defensively and create offensively?
Joe, I see you are a man of taste and have read the latest piece put out by the excellent: DUAL MONSTERS.
Applying this to the EFL is going to be difficult. There’s a reason Moises Caicedo, Enzo Fernandez and Declan Rice cost £100m+, because they excel in all facets of the game, in the most important position on the pitch, and they do it all the time, at the highest possible level.
But it won’t stop us from trying to find the fashionable 6s in the EFL right now. My approach is this: looking for those who have the physicality and aggression to win the ball, are comfortable receiving the ball under pressure, and have the ability to pass and carry the ball forward when the chance is there.
The Championship 6s that stand out are Flynn Downes and Ethan Ampadu. Perhaps, given the breadth of the skillset we’re talking about, it’s no surprise they’ve both commanded large transfer fees early in their careers. Both excel as destroyers - physically and athletically dominant - but also can receive and play under pressure.
I think Stoke’s hope is that Wouter Burger will grow into a consistent performer with this profile. Coventry’s Ben Sheaf has been operating at a solid level for a few years now. As we know from various pieces, Massimo Luongo shows up very well in all aspects.
Hayden Hackney and Adam Wharton are young players who fit the bill when it comes to press resistance and progressive passing, but they need to build out the ‘destroyer’ part of the game as they develop.
The first name that comes to mind in League One is Marcus McGuane - perhaps no surprise to anyone who’s watched Oxford United this season. He really is brilliant at receiving the ball under pressure, spinning his man and speeding away to start attacks. To call him a destroyer would be generous, he doesn’t fly around winning the ball, but he’s decent enough on that front. Other names that get close: Ollie Norburn (Blackpool), Marc Leonard (Northampton), Idris El Mizouni (Leyton Orient).
I’ve been excited by the emergence of 20-year-old Baba Adeeko at Wigan. He’s showing some destroyer energy for sure and has impressive physicality for his age. He’s got work to do in possession, but he has shown some ball-carrying ability.
In League Two, there’s a great group of players who would, without a shadow of a doubt, be playing at a higher level if they were bigger, faster and stronger: Liam Kelly (Crawley), Louis Reed (Mansfield), George McEachran (Swindon), Charlie McCann (Forest Green), Matt Palmer (Notts County) are all excellent on the ball in midfield areas while showing tenacity out of possession, but all are playing in League Two due to a lack of physicality and athleticism.
There are a few players that destroy defensively but are unlikely to provide great quality on the ball, although probably not as many as in previous eras - it’s difficult to ‘hide’ a midfield player if you also want to be a team comfortable on the ball.
As readers know, I have high hopes for Kamil Conteh at Grimsby Town. If he was three inches taller, he would stand out even more out of possession, where he is showing some destroyer qualities even at 20 years old. He’s got plenty of room to grow in possession, and I think his performance level has dropped recently in line with Grimsby’s, but he does show the sort of traits we’re looking for - he’s press resistant, welcomes pressure, looks to punch passes through the lines.
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Which young players from each division (one each) do you think are ready to step up a league and what team would be their ideal landing spot to progress further?
Championship: Jack Clarke (Sunderland). Ideal landing spot: Fulham.
League One: Ronnie Edwards (Peterborough). Ideal landing spot: Sunderland.
League Two: Ali Al-Hamadi. Ideal landing spot: Take your pick! Bolton, Peterborough, Oxford, Derby, Barnsley.
David L asks:
How do you rate Joe Edwards’ chances of being a successful head coach at Millwall?
I like the appointment of Joe Edwards at Millwall for both parties.
I think Millwall is an excellent landing spot for Edwards: the structure behind the scenes at Millwall is tight but supportive, and I get the feeling there is a level of ambition that’s both realistic and aspirational - no unreasonable short-term expectations. The club also has a recent record of long managerial tenures with Neil Harris and Gary Rowett. The fanbase is ready to get behind a feeling of freshness and a new era. These factors make the early days easier for a first-time manager.
I also think it is the right time for Millwall to make this sort of appointment: there’s only a small threat of relegation. Barring a disastrous start, there shouldn’t be much feeling of jeopardy or nervousness. As we have seen with Kieran McKenna, the potential upside of hiring a rookie manager with a strong reputation for coaching at elite level is vast. Equally, if the CV doesn’t translate to comfort in the dugout, it shouldn’t be a huge risk to the foundations of the club.
If you’re looking for issues or awkwardness, there’s the fact that the technical level of the current squad isn’t particularly high. So, any immediate changes to the team’s in-possession approach may need to be soft.
But overall, it feels right and I am excited to see what Edwards can do. For what it’s worth, I would also have been excited if the club had selected Nathan Jones.
Adrian S asks:
There is a lot of optimism with Wednesday fans that Röhl has given us a chance of a miraculous escape because, despite three losses, the football has improved massively and made us competitive. What do you think about this take? Have you been impressed with the upturn of performances and could it lead to that required mid-table form we need to get to 50 points?
I’ve been impressed Danny Röhl’s first few weeks. The way that Wednesday have started each match - even those they have lost - indicates a much better game plan and level of performance. Confidence and player quality remain an issue, and luck continues to fall against Wednesday. But I agree that the football has improved and made Wednesday more competitive.
I think Röhl’s has given you more chance of a miraculous escape, but I still think it is highly unlikely.
My hope is that if Wednesday continue to start games well, then points will start to come. But a lot of points are needed. A good run is not enough, this necessitates a strong three months.
My concern is that Wednesday’s squad is simply not good enough, or suitable enough in terms of attributes, to maintain a strong level of performance, and that, if Wednesday continue to fall on the wrong side of results, confidence will evaporate.
David S asks:
Which team (or teams) in the EFL do you think have the most potential to grow off the pitch? Thinking like fanbase, stadium, community etc.
This is difficult! The factors mentioned are all hard to measure, particularly across 72 teams where each context is unique. I would be really interested to hear in the comments what people’s instinct was when they read the question.
My hunch is that growing a fanbase is going to be strongly linked to success. So, which League One or League Two clubs could significantly boost their match-going fanbase and have the capacity to house them? Notts County and Charlton spring to mind, if they could achieve a promotion or two.
In the Championship, Birmingham City feel like a candidate. They have much room for improvement in all areas after years of disrepair, they have an ownership group that seems serious about making those improvements, they’re from the second largest city in the country with a populated catchment area, and we’ve seen them average 25-27,000 in the Premier League (current: 16,000).
A new stadium, added to on-pitch success, is a powerful equation - Brentford being the best example in the last decade, Brighton before them. In that sense, Oxford United need to be mentioned, because if the new stadium gets built it will have a huge impact on the club and its potential. The licence agreement at the Kassam Stadium expires in 2026, and the difference that having and owning a modern stadium, rather than paying rent to play in one of the worst grounds in the EFL, will be transformative for the club and the community.
The community aspect of the question is difficult, as I don’t have a strong steer of the exact amount each club is doing in its community. I know that some clubs do incredible things, and stretch themselves in order to do so. This week’s EFL Week of Action celebrates those clubs, as do the FSA Awards 2023 - where you can vote for your favourite (and also us!).
Thoughts on the overperformers and underperformers in all three leagues so far, taking into account pre season expectations?
Championship over-performers: In terms of league table, Cardiff City and Preston North End. In terms of performances, Blackburn Rovers and Hull City. The caveat is that we saw Ipswich’s quality a mile off, but even so, a promoted side being 8pts clear of third after 15 games is insane.
Championship under-performers: In terms of league table, Coventry. In terms of performances… maybe Millwall.
League One over-performers: Stevenage and Wigan.
League One under-performers: Derby County in terms of the top end, and I’ve been disappointed by the performances of Shrewsbury and Carlisle even having predicted them to finish 17th and 19th.
League Two over-performers: Crewe, Morecambe, and Accrington all have made brilliant starts, well above expectations.
League Two under-performers: Sutton, Forest Green, Grimsby, Bradford.
Pick three biscuits that perfectly sum up a team from each division. So, a biscuit for a Championship team, one for League One, one for League Two.
First off, all EFL teams are CLUB BISCUITS. Second, I’m going to depart from your structure with an answer that has taken up too much of my bandwidth, and at the same time, not nearly enough.
Oreo = Wrexham. Rich and popular worldwide.
Fig Röhl = Sheffield Wednesday.
Jaffa Cakes = MK Dons. Huge national arguments relating to the very core of their being.
Digestive = Preston. 63 reliable years in the football league.
Lotus Biscoff = Blackburn Rovers. A sophisticated Northern European vibe (Jon Dahl Tomasson) provides an indulgent taste (great attacking play) but occasionally leaves you feeling a bit sick (bad at defending).
Amaretti = Leicester City. Italian. Higher quality than we’re used to. That 3-2-5 in possession shape is just showing off, if we’re honest.
Rich Tea = Notts County. Founders of the EFL, found themselves a little left behind in the modern era.
Jammie Dodgers: surely has to be the team out-performing their underlying numbers by the largest margin? In which case, the answer is probably Morecambe - near the bottom of any League Two xG table, but 5th in the league table.
Jordan R asks:
Where do you currently stand on the League 2 relegation battle? Feel like this is the first year where there aren’t 2 teams nailed-on to go down, I think all of the sides down there have enough about them to stay up this year.
I agree. It’s the strongest group of relegation candidates I can remember. But that doesn’t help those teams!
If the ten best Musical Chairs players in the world play against each other, someone still gets eliminated when the music stops…
Of the current bottom six, I think there’s a strong chance that Forest Green and Grimsby get their act together at some point. I trust Sutton to fight tooth and nail right until the end, even if up against it. I wouldn’t be surprised if they put together a run at some point. I am less sure about Tranmere, I had a terrible feeling about them pre-season and see little to suggest it was misplaced. I think Harrogate (19th) and Newport (20th) are likely in the highest positions they’ll be all season, and are contenders to sink into the mire.
Max B asks:
Which team, in any of the leagues, have you got absolutely no gauge on? No clear style of play, consistent performances/results etc.
Clubs I don’t have a hugely strong steer on are generally mid-table types. Clubs that have good runs that you look at thinking ‘Ooooh, are you good now?’ and poor runs that you look at thinking ‘Oooooh, are you in trouble now?’ and the answer is generally ‘NO’ to all questions. Right now? Preston, Lincoln, Walsall spring to mind.
When a team so consistently scores late winners/equalisers (see Southampton + Portsmouth), is that a positive sign of wearing down the opposition/strength of squad/character or an unsustainable way of accumulating points?
Boring answer - both! Definitely a positive sign. Generally, the teams that score the most late winners are the good teams in any division. Bad teams don’t tend to finish games strongly. I’m sure there’s a correlation between late goals and teams that have more consistent possession/territory scoring, but I don’t have the numbers on that. There’s probably also a relationship between late goals and teams that have good squads, and therefore good substitutes.
In terms of being unsustainable, I don’t think you want ‘points won in the last ten minutes’ to be the major food group in your points diet. More important, in my opinion, is conceding the first goal. Do that too often and it will catch up with you in most cases, even if you seem to be getting away with it a third of the way through the season.
Could you name 1 club from each division who you expect to finish significantly higher than their current position, and 1 club to finish significantly lower than their current position?
Championship higher: Coventry City (currently 20th)
Championship lower: Preston North End (6th)
League One higher: Easy answer is Wigan due to points deduction skewing league position, but I can Fleetwood rising from 22nd.
League One lower: I’m not seeing that much significant movement in League One, but I think Burton (14th) are a candidate for some gravitational pull.
League Two higher: MK Dons
League Two lower: Crewe Alex. Injuries. Poor defensive record.
Espen R asks:
Sacking season is here so there is a lot of talk about the men in the dugouts in all three leagues. But my hunch is that most dugouts are above pitch level, so technically not a "dugout". So my question is; how many managers in the EFL are actually working in a dugout?
I leaned on the NTT20 Squad for this one, as I’m not a dugout connoisseur.
Here’s a list of clubs that are still dugout or dugout-adjacent: Leeds, Charlton, Burton, Barrow. Any quarrels, join the NTT20 Squad and take it up with them…
When is the NTT20 golf day happening?
When we have made enough money to hire an Events Manager! Live shows, away days, golf days, charity football matches…
Thank you for all your questions! It’s been a privilege to give them my best shot. If you agree or disagree with anything above, let me know… let’s chat!